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Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Is Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev ready to retire, for good?
Is Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev ready to retire, for good?
You can almost picture Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev blowing the dust off his old record collection, queuing up The Clash, and contemplating his options. Should I see this thing through to the end by remaining in office until death? Or head out to pasture and enjoy the golden years by retiring, maybe even before the end of my current term?

"If I go there will be trouble... An' if I stay it will be double..."

For long, the widespread belief has been that Nazarbaev would stay. An amendment to Kazakhstan's Constitution says the "first president" (that's Nazarbaev) can run for the presidency as many times as he wants. And certainly, as Kazakhstan's political scene stands now, there is no one else who could hope to defeat him in an election.

"If you say that you are mine... I'll be here 'til the end of time..."

In mid-May, however, Nazarbaev's longtime associate and adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbaev suggested Nazarbaev could retire -- perhaps as early as this year.

Such words do not fall idly from the mouths of Kazakh officials. Seemingly offhand suggestions made by officials are usually the way Kazakhstan's government casts out ideas to gauge public opinion.

"So if you want me off your back... Well come on and let me know..."

Days later, Gani Kaliev, the head of the pro-presidential Aul Party, also chimed in, echoing the suggestion in an interview with Kazakhstan's "Megapolis" newspaper and noting, like Yertysbaev, that the issue really depends on the outcome of a draft law on "Leader of the Nation (Elbashi)."

If he were to write the bill into law, Nazarbaev would basically receive the same rights and privileges he enjoys now as president, but he would no longer have to go to work in the morning. He would also get immunity from investigation or prosecution, and he -- as well as "those people living in his household" -- would be exempted from any future confiscation of funds or property.

"So you gotta let me know... Should I stay or should I go?"

Kaliev said in his interview that writing those conditions into the constitution "could be very handy and would allow [Nazarbaev] to safely transfer the post of president to another person."

After the bill was passed by both houses of parliament in mid-May, Nazarbaev went on a brief vacation, perhaps to give him some more time to contemplate. In early June, he announced his decision: He would veto the bill.

But is this really where the issue dies? We'll have to wait until July 6. That's when Nazarbaev turns 70. And officials have been hinting for months that something special will happen.

-- Bruce Pannier